I am getting ready to direct a day of reflection on the psalms and, in preparation, have immersed myself in their lyrical beauty. From awe-filled praise over the majesty of creation to the tender cries of a soul in pain, the psalms give expression to the vast range of emotion that we bring to our prayer. Even the calls for vengeance and the “smiting” of enemies have a place in such prayer. When we are confronted with outrageous acts of terror, abuse, violence, or corruption, the plea for justice and retribution comes naturally. What better place to take such feelings than to God whose wider vision helps temper our emotional outbursts?
I attended the NCEA Convention in Boston last week and, once again, found myself surrounded by the generosity of women and men dedicated to the well-being of children, youth, and families. It always warms my heart. On my last night, I went to a nearby restaurant for what I hoped would be a quiet meal. Instead, I was seated next to a trio of disgruntled co-workers. For the next hour I was an unwillingly recipient of their complaints and criticisms about a supervisor. Perhaps there was just cause for their frustration, but they vented it without regard for those within earshot. It soured the experience of an otherwise lovely meal.
During the celebration of the Eucharist, we incorporate a psalm refrain into the readings from Scripture. The word has a double meaning. Within the liturgy, it refers to a song or chorus. Since the psalms were originally meant to be sung or chanted, using them as a refrain makes perfect sense. The other meaning is also apt: to forbear or abstain. Used in this context, the psalms invite us to hold back on weeping or complaining until we are in a more appropriate setting. I have no doubt that God’s ears are well attuned to the cries of misery and righteous indignation that each of us experiences at one time or another. Might it make more sense to abstain from throwing those grievances out into public spaces and, instead, to bring them to prayer? This seems to be the practice of the original psalmists. No wonder that so many of the psalms of lament end up with some form of blessing and expression of gratitude. Prayer has a way of doing that – of changing the atmosphere and drawing us into a wider view. And, if nothing else, giving the people at the next table a chance to eat in peace.
Pay attention to the psalm refrains that are used during the Easter season. Use one or more of them as part of your family or class prayer.
Try to monitor your speech for an entire day. What words of negativity, criticism, cruelty, or complaint can you refrain from saying? Share your insights with your family or class.